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I’ve been reading a lot across social media platforms around Zambians (specifically) talking about not doing work for free.   I read it with keen interest.

As a person who has had to pay for services of another person, and have also had to charge out my services, I hasten to caution that the not working for free does not apply across the board. I’m a strong believer in knowing your worth, therefore you know when and how much to charge out your time to, but don’t have an exaggerated belief in your worth.   This blog is more for people coming up in the industry, still wet behind the ears, as opposed to those established as I feel the ones coming up are feeling they are established out of the gate.

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So before you refuse any zero paying jobs, consider these points:

Is It Really Not Paying?

Money is not the only currency for success. Sometimes you do things in order to get exposure, network or add to the portfolio. All of which will make you make more money, or gain more skills, which will make you earn more money. So it still comes back to money.

I’m always eager to learn and try new things. Sometimes this means that I don’t get paid for it, but then I have it under my belt and next time round I can charge for it. So I look for the ‘what’s in it for me’ before I say no, and equally before I say yes.

Sometimes I take on projects that don’t pay me because I want an opportunity to work with a key person, a cool creative collaboration with like minded people, or to network, or it’s a charity I believe in, or because it just seems like an awesome project! But I ensure I’m still working with people who appreciate the value I’m bringing and not just exploiting me.

Know Your Worth

The great thing about living in a global world is that anyone can hire anyone regardless of location. The problem with that is that you’re no longer competing with just people in your locale, or your borders only but people everywhere in the world.

So when you’ve taught yourself how to use photoshop, or how to shoot videos via youtube masterclasses (not hating, there are some good tutorials out there), your skillset will still not be as great as those who went to school for three years to learn.   But yet you’ll want to charge the same rates? True story, I have encountered this a couple of times in Zambia – I remember a Zambian DOP asking for the same daily rate as the guy who shoots with Spike Lee! I couldn’t believe it, ‘You’re having a laugh mate!’ Of course flying him in and paying his accommodation and per diem adds up, but the result of the product would still be night and day.

Before you demand your fee, make sure you’re worth it – and not just in your head, but from your body of work and your skillset. In the same regard, don’t underprice yourself, just know what you’re bringing to the table – what is your value add? You might be expensive in one area but your knowledge, or skill might save the client money in other areas, and not because you’re just greedy.  And always remember to be professional.

Know Why You Do What You Do

We hear it all the time: you need to love what you do so you’ll never work a day in your life. And we also hear ‘ultimately you have to pay the bills’.

I think you need balance. I believe when you love what you do, you seek out opportunities to be better, to grow. When you are better, ideally the best, the money comes. How will you ever be the best without practice, without seeking out new ways of doing things, without exposure? And trust me, just because your five friends tell you you’re the best, that doesn’t mean ish. Awards too are great – definitely a move in the right direction, but again, doesn’t mean much, unless it’s from a super respected and noted body. Being on lists is also a move in the right direction, again note who is the author of the list.   And they all add up.

You know you’re the best when not only do people seek you our, but actually you’re in the position where you can control doing things for ‘free’ because you make enough money to choose to do what you love, and to give back to those who need you to do it for free, or reduced cost.

However, what is paramount to all of this, is clients who can afford to pay you, must pay you, regardless of what your thinking around doing work for free is.   There is a difference between being exploited and someone genuinely not able to afford you and needing your help. And don’t sour a relationship just for a few Kwachas, there’s always give and take, who knows where you’ll be tomorrow, who will be willing to help you, and who will be waiting to push you down. Though people who know your worth, will also understand your position – ultimately free doesn’t pay bills.

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